Kickstarting the Urban Abstract Experience
Jerry Hardesty harnesses the internet to fund an art project
Renaissance artists had the Catholic church and wealthy patrons to fund their art projects. Jerry Hardesty has nearly 5,000 Facebook friends and the Kickstarter community. Who needs a patron with millions when the Internet allows easy access to thousands of people who just might want to invest as little as $5 to be part of your creative process?
My, how times have changed.
When painter Jerry Hardesty heard about Kickstarter, an online service that helps creative types find investors for projects, he could immediately see its application to visual art projects he dreams of doing. Hardesty submitted a proposal to fund a project he calls the “Urban Abstract Experience,” a collection of paintings and 3-D works inspired by sidewalk drawings, graffiti, faded signs, decomposing posters, and abandoned buildings he found in and around Salt Lake City. He used his camera to document more than 100 of these images for some future collection of paintings. As he posted some of the photographs to his Facebook page, he found they resonated with his readers. This validated his desire to “preserve” the images before the elements wash them away by using them as inspiration for a series of abstract paintings.
While most visual artists bear all the expense of creating works for an exhibition and then pray that sales cover costs, Hardesty sees this as another model, one that may “generate more interest in my art work. I think this is a unique project and that, in itself, may generate interest,” he says.
Kickstarter accepted Hardesty’s proposal. Some 40 percent of proposals are not accepted, so he is elated. But that’s just the beginning of a long and arduous process that most artists would find daunting. First he had to thoroughly envision his outcome, his budget, and the steps it will take to get there. If that sounds a lot like a business plan, it is. Do you know many painters who like to do business plans? Perhaps it’s Hardesty’s business background (various positions at Union Pacific Railroad) that provided the confidence and stamina to tackle such a challenge.
Hardesty “attended” the online Kickstarter school to learn best practices for a successful project. This includes defining the pledge levels for donors and coming up with an award structure for each investor at each level – from a letter of heartfelt thanks and invitation to the exhibition, to a copy of a book he intends to publish and limited edition prints.
Hardesty will officially launch his funding campaign on October 14, after which he can take as long as 60 days to gather pledges. Donors send money to Kickstarter, which puts it into an Amazon account from which Hardesty may draw funding as needed. The catch is that if he doesn’t meet his funding goal, all the money must be returned to donors. The incentive, clearly, is to set funding goals as low as possible. With that in mind, most Kickstarter entrepreneurs fund about half their budget with their own resources.
A look at the painting section of the Kickstarter projects described on its web site, reveals some projects with little or no pledges while others have achieved more than 100 percent of their goals. The difference may be in the quality of the art, the creativity of the project, and how well the artist promotes the campaign.
Hardesty is already planting the seeds – a “soft launch” he calls it – on Facebook and on his blog. On October 14, the projected launch day, his readers will get the details about how to invest and what they get for their investment. Those benefits, in addition to “heartfelt thanks” include things like an opportunity to name the book that will document the project or to submit a photographic urban image that Hardesty will paint and have printed on a greeting card for the donor. T-shirts, sets of cards, limited edition prints, and an autographed book are among the other donor awards.
One of the complicated parts of the planning process is “to match the pledge levels with the awards you’re giving and figure out what your budget is based on that,” says Hardesty. This requires a lot of research to determine the cost of producing the awards and making sure you make a profit in the end.
Then there are all the other costs involved: materials, marketing, exhibit space, printing, and hired help, to name a few. Kickstarter takes 5 percent of the budget and Amazon charges 3.2 percent for serving as banker for the project. Hardesty estimates he’s spent more than 60 hours on research and planning thus far.
Of course, creating new works for an exhibit is at the core of the project. Hardesty, whose works are acrylic or mixed media on panel, has completed two paintings so far and estimates he will produce at least one painting per week between now and January, when he plans to exhibit the work. He is still exploring various exhibition venues.
Hardesty plans to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Plus to reach prospective donors. If those contacts forward his pitch to their networks, he may benefit from that oh-so-desirable viral potential of the Internet. In addition, the advantage of using Kickstarter is that they have about 300 people who consistently donate to projects they like. Hardesty hopes they will like his.
Hardesty is part of the co-op gallery Art at the Main, in the atrium of the downtown library building. He has also had shows at Beans and Brew, Barnes and Noble, and other venues around the Salt Lake valley. Though mostly self-taught, Hardesty has taken classes and workshops from several area artists including John Hughes, Susan Gallacher, and Steven Sheffield. He began painting in the ‘70s but his career in the railroad industry took priority. Then, after surviving two strokes and two heart attacks, in 2006 he retired early and took up painting again. Though he began with landscapes and other representational subjects, he has evolved as an abstract expressionist whose work is characterized by bold color, texture, expressive lines, and adventurous combinations of materials.
Kickstarter may not be the right business model for every artist or every project, but it’s still enough of a novelty that it promises better than average promotional opportunities. For the right project, it may be worth all the extra effort to bend the right-brained artist to the required business tasks.
To follow Hardesty’s project or become part of his donor base, stay tuned to his blog posts or look up his Facebook page.
The Gospel According to Ralphael, which we covered in our September edition of 15 Bytes, is part of The Lost and Found Series, a film project that used Kickstarter to reach its $5000 funding goals.
Shalee Cooper, also featured in our September edition, is using Kickstarter to grow her The Heel Toe Project, which explores what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes (read the article). Cooper has sold all but three of her pairs of cowboy boots, and now has launched an open call for entries in anticipation of the November exhibition at Kayo Gallery. The call invites people to submit images that express three things everyone shares: life, love and loss. Her Kickstarter project will help cover the cost of printing a catalogue for the exhibition and determine the size and quality of the prints for the numerous submissions.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Painting Your ABCs
Toni Youngblood's Calligraffiti at Charley Hafen
Try to teach a young child how to read and you’ll know just how mysterious the alphabet is. Language comes naturally to children and I think it is always amazing to see how quickly a toddler becomes fluent with sophisticated grammar and words. When they try to make sense of language by looking at the swirls and lines of the English alphabet, however, the process is anything but natural. Soon enough, though, no matter how irrational or arbitrary the relationship between language and alphabet most children master the process and the alphabet becomes a natural part of their lives. In a literate society the alphabet is like a second skin through which we experience the world.
Maybe that’s why, ever since language started being written down, cultures have experimented with different alphabets. These experiments have sometimes been functional, like the straight lines the Phoenicians used because of their writing tool, the stylus. Just as often they’ve been aesthetic, like fashion wardrobes. How else can you explain Gothic script, our love of fonts or the wonderful artistry of Far Eastern alphabets? All of this must be what fascinates artists like Toni Youngblood, who explore alphabets, real or imaginary, as an artistic medium.
Youngblood’s Calligraffiti series, which is now up at Charley Hafen Gallery, is a collection of compact abstract works that uses alphabets, or what look like alphabets, as integral components in layered, decorative works.|0| Abstract artists often talk of “mark-making” so it is no wonder that many of them drift naturally to using our most common mark, the As,Bs and Cs of the alphabet as elements in their work (another local artist who does this is Sue Slade, whose show at Phillips Gallery in June was fabulous).
Encaustic seems to be everywhere these days and for some artists wax is just a way to mask lazy work. But in Youngblood’s painting the encaustic is essential because it allows her to build up layers, into which she paints or scrapes her alphabets. From far back these paintings can look like the patterned work of an abstract expressionist. Up close you see the familiar swirls and lines of an alphabet, but they seem a natural part of the whole surface, rather than sitting on top of the painting, like ink on paper.|1| The alphabets don’t spell out words. Some are just scrawls that give the sense of writing.|2| In other pieces Youngblood uses found materials, like nails, to give off the effect of characters.|3| Or at least they feel like characters -- the result of the fact that we have become so used to seeing letters, from the serifs on our computer screen to the scrawl of our doctors' notes – even if we don’t know what they “say.” In that way Toni Youngblood’s Calligraffiti paintings take us back to the wonder and mystery of childhood.|4|
Pat Denner, The Magic Hand on Broadway
On September 25th, 2011 Utah artist and illustrator Pat Denner passed away at the age of 87. Denner was a fixture along Salt Lake's Broadway district, where he was immediately recognizable in his fedora hat and yellow cadillac.
Denner's is not a household name, but you've seen his work, whether south in Vegas, west in Wendover, or at your local KFC. He created Vegas Vic for the Young Electric Sign Company in 1951 and followed that with Wendover Will for the Stateline Casino in in 1952. That same year he designed the sit-down menus for Harman Restaurants, home of the KFC franchise, and also created the caricature of Col. Harland Sanders that has traveled around the world. For decades after he handled prestigious accounts from the offices of Denner & Associates at 171 East Broadway.
When he retired Denner turned the storefront property into a studio that became filled from floor to ceiling with his paintings, collected memoriabilia and the "sayings" he liked to post on the wall. "He was a great technical artist," says Tom Thompson, who used to own Saans Gallery on Broadway. "He could do anything. He was also a fine fellow and one hell of a good neighbor back when we were on Broadway."
Denner was born in 1924 and only learned late in life that he had been adopted -- he was left at Park City's St. Anne's Orphanage when only a week old.
In the thirties he worked on the railroad, and like many youth today couldn't resist the temptation to decorate box cars (read Richard Menzies' two blog posts here and here). He graduated from Judge Memorial High School and in 1943 joined the Navy, then attended Pratt Institute before embarking on his successful career as an illustrator.
In 2007 Denner was the subject of Howdy Pardner!, a documentary by George Leon exploring Americana, graphic design and outdoor advertising and its influence on popular culture. When Gloria, his wife of 62 years, passed away in 2008 friends say he was heartbroken. He was still working in his studio when Shalee Cooper shot a photo essay of his studio in 2009 (see here), but by 2010 his ill health kept him home bound and he had to close the studio.
His neighbors on Broadway all remarked on what a generous and charming person he was, always ready with a smile and a helping hand.